Book Reviews

The Birth of Tragedy by Friedrich Nietzsche

In this episode of reading with Nietzsche we have Apollo and Dionysus clash. Two gods go toe to toe with one another. But what’s that? A third participant enters the ring? Socrates joins the fight! This is a clash of titans, ladies and gentlemen, and our commentator Nietzsche will give us a deep analysis of what is going on.

            This is the premise of Nietzsche’s first published book (albeit with some exaggeration). This book starts with an analysis of two forms of art: the Apollonian and Dionysian. But as the book proceeds these artforms represent multiple cultures in the civilization of humans.

            The Apollonian represents the sentence which was engraved on the temple of Delphi: ‘Know Thyself!’ This represented the esthetic necessity of beauty, which was characterized with modesty. Moderation was needed if one was to produce beauty. But moderation can’t go with excess, which is the domain of Dionysus, the wine god. These two deities are always in conflict with one another. Sometimes Apollo gains the upper hand, then Dionysus comes back with an upper cut and seats the throne for some time.

            Nietzsche gives this analysis with the context of Euripides. Euripides’ dramas can’t realize the aspects of Apollo, but it also doesn’t take in the elements of Dionysus. So, where does Euripides come from? What kind of esthetic does he produce? Well, he got this from a friend of him: Socrates. Socrates wants to use the Apollonian elements in order to achieve the truth of Dionysus. Plato is the one who does this with the invention of the novel. At least according to Nietzsche.
            Nietzsche takes this esthetic socratism to the modern era. Socrates (read science and enlightenment) has lost its throne. Dionysus has come back to take his throne. His weapon? The tragedy. With this Nietzsche ushers in a new German culture.

            This book is the starting point of Nietzsche’s philosophy. Many concepts which are important in later works, find their origin in this work. Maybe not explicitly, but the seeds are already planted in this quite coherent book. Nietzsche mostly wrote very cryptic and using aphorisms. But this is a quite consistent book, with a comprehensive structure, which is something I’m not used to with Nietzsche.

            This is not the best book to start exploring Nietzsche though. You’ll be able to understand what he says but it will at first feel like a book with not that much philosophical depth. But while exploring the depth of Nietzsche’s other works, you’ll see many of the core ideas of Nietzsche’s philosophy already lightly touched in this book. Because of this, this book is a real discovery about the ideas of Nietzsche.

            This is (in terms of Nietzsche) a rather lighter read than his other works. In his other works he is a lot more ambiguous, not really laying out arguments for the assertions he’s making. He does this more in this book. Like I said, it’s a lot more structured and because of this it sometimes doesn’t feel like a Nietzschean book, which is a real tragedy (I’m sorry for setting up this pun, it was stronger than myself. Let Dionysus rule!).

            Now go out and read this marvelous short book. You’ll get a deeper understanding of 19th century most famous philosopher. And you’ll have a hell of a time exploring the depths of his mind.

By elenchusphilosophy

Philosophy student from Ghent, Belgium. I write about what I find interesting which is about nearly anything. Though my guiding question in life is how to be a good person.

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